Rendezvous with Dr. Himadri Das

The Future Choices and Challenges Faced by Present Day Management Schools

It is always a pleasure meeting great academicians and asking them to share their views on the current economic scenario, its impact on the business education world and the future prospects that MBA education holds for students and industry.
Update - Dr. Himadri Das has left MDI Gurgaon and has joined IMI, New Delhi as Director General.
The team at MBA Rendezvous got a chance to speak with Dr. Himadri Das, the former Director of MDI Gurgaon.

Dr. Das has formerly been associated with prestigious names like Great Lakes Institute of Management (Gurgaon) and International Management Institute (Delhi) in the roles of Director and Dean (Academic Programs) respectively. With around 16 years (and still counting) of academic experience and 13 years of corporate experience, Dr. Das is a B.Tech and MBA from IIT Delhi and M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, USA. He has been a visiting professor at universities in Luxembourg, Finland and France.

We caught up with him on his views on the future challenges and prospects of the Indian Management education system, importance of research based teaching and how we can produce ethically conscious future managers.

Team MBA Rendezvous : Leadership in the VUCA world is highly challenging, so in this context how would you wish that Indian Management should shape up and take on future challenges?

Dr. Das : By the very nature of the VUCA world, the Indian Business schools cannot bask in the past glory. What has worked in the past may not work in the future because business needs are changing at a very fast pace and towards a very uncertain future. So the challenge is to stay ahead of the curve and create skills and competencies that will be required by students and executives in the future. This means having a very forward-looking view and concentrating on emerging areas, many of which are going to be driven by technology that the business executives must be familiar with.

This is not to say that what a business school will teach today will be good for the executive for the rest of his or her career because, in today’s VUCA world there is going to be a very fast and continuous unlearning and learning in the career of executives. So the job of a business school is to not only provide them with management and business related skills and competencies, but also create a framework in the mind of an executive on how to unlearn and learn. They should be in a position to question the past assumptions and be ready to embrace new developments. That mind set change is what Indian Business schools should aim at.

Team MBA Rendezvous : How does research create an academic culture of adapting to newer market behaviours?

Dr. Das :Research is a way for a faculty of a business school to create knowledge. If you don’t do research, you are simply disseminating existing knowledge. It does not really matter, where that knowledge comes from (usually text books), because all you are doing is simply explaining what is already known. You curb yourself from going into the unknown and the unexplored areas which could be ultimately relevant for the future. We must remember that there are no books written which tell what is relevant for the future. They all talk about what already exists and is relevant in the present day.

In short, only knowledge dissemination without knowledge creation, is limited in its ability to shape and influence young minds who will be the business executives of tomorrow. So today especially, the importance of research in a business school becomes extremely important where the faculty has to invest time outside of class doing cutting edge global research, which will not only help them create knowledge but will be able to take it to their classroom and share it with their students.

Now almost all top management schools create a very strongly enabled research culture where they give faculty time, incentives and facilities to conduct research and publish in reputed international research journals.

Team MBA Rendezvous : In the context that brands have adapted glocally to face consumer demands, so do you visualise that the Indian management education too will sail in a similar direction?

Dr. Das : The glocal adaptation is extremely important because you need to have a good marriage of the local and the global. You cannot completely and blindly copy what happens in the West because it may not be relevant for local markets. Trick is to take best practices from global markets and localise them for Indian customers and consumers. That is where the challenge lies. Because lot of business have failed as they directly parachuted Western models into India expecting it to work but have miserably failed. That is a sure shot recipe for disaster.

There is nothing wrong with starting off with a global model which is time tested and known to work. But what is important is to localise that global successful model to take care of the nuances and needs of the Indian consumer and make sure it works in the local Indian set up. This is something where the Indian management schools should lead from the front. For example, a lot of schools have been teaching global case studies which are relevant from the Western world’s point of view. But now there is a huge demand for developing Indian cases and B-schools are spending a lot of time encouraging their faculty to write India centric cases. When you write those cases, you can write them with the same quality as that of the global best practices but with focus on the local Indian industry issues and problems. So this becomes a good marriage of best practices of case writing and case structuring at global level, addressing cases that cater to the companies at the local level.

Team MBA Rendezvous : Since Technology led class rooms can be a boost for continuing education for present day executives but institutes still prefer campus stay hence, what can be the future scenario?

Dr. Das : The life of in-campus programs is limited. This comes from my firsthand experience of trying to sell such courses to industry. When I go and have conversations with various CHRO’s of companies asking them to nominate and send people to the campus for programs with a fairly extended period, I get a clear message about their inability to do so. The first question they ask is how are they going to spare their key people for such a long duration of time and how will their business run? Companies are becoming leaner and the interesting thing is that even PSUs which were known traditionally for having a lot of redundant resources are no longer in that situation. The entire set of private and public sector companies are leaner than ever before. They are not able to spare resources for a longer duration of time. This is where “technology” comes as a saviour.

I strongly believe that the future of executive education is ‘Blended Learning’. This way you can actually learn something meaningful like a 3 to 6 month certificate programs which helps you build your competencies and skills considerably with a very small component of classroom time. Something like 3-day classroom interaction at the beginning and the end of the program. Initially the professors can set a context about the course, create a basic canvas of learning that is expected to happen and the expected outcomes via face to face interaction. For the remaining period there could be online course engagement in the form of pre-recorded content, webinars, peer group bulletin boards managed through a learning management system where students can participate and faculty can interject where required. At the end students could again come for a final face to face interaction with the faculty and clarify their doubts and tie up the loose ends for closing things and go back with solid learning outcomes. So Blended is the future. Pure face to face has a limited shelf life.


Team MBA Rendezvous : What are your views on contemporary thinking of industry – academia gap and a bright future?

Dr. Das : A business school is relevant only if it is relevant to industry. And industry wants people who can hit the ground running as soon as they complete their graduation. Traditionally higher education has focused on imparting knowledge, and the focus is on making students ‘know’ certain things. But the industry hires people for ‘not what they know’ but for ‘what they can do’.
This shift from ‘what you know’ to ‘what you can do’ has to be led from the front by the business schools. You have to know certain things, to be able to do what you need to do. For doing so, knowledge is the prerequisite. But we cannot stop at the prerequisite and just arm people with knowledge where they don’t know how and where to apply it effectively and eventually solve problems.
Today for a contemporary business school to be really in line with what the industry wants there needs to be a shift from the knowledge imparted to its actual application. We are already seeing a shift happening in lot of good B-Schools from ‘what you know’ to ‘what you can do’. ‘What you know’ is a means to an end to ‘what you can do’. This shift is causing the industry academic gap smaller and making the business schools more relevant for the industry.

Team MBA Rendezvous : Your views on transforming young men and women to industry fit managers who are also conscious socially, ethically, politically and glocally.

Dr. Das : I am glad you brought this up. Higher education institutes focus on the harder part of education. I call them the ‘hard skills’ which is simply imparting knowledge and how to use it. What we need to focus is on producing not only competent people but good human beings. It is not safe to assume that a competent person will necessarily be a good human being. So it is very important to ensure we produce a blend of both these qualities.

For this ‘soft skills’ need to be incorporated and this cannot be done in the classroom alone. It is about leading from the front. If the faculty and senior leadership practice what they preach, and they are ethical with their dealings with both the students and the outside world, then students for sure will see and learn from them. There are certain lines that cannot be crossed. A student may not do well academically because everyone cannot be same, but if a student crosses certain lines which are ethically unacceptable, then there should be no forgiveness for it.

Unfortunately, ethical boundaries have been quite frequently crossed in businesses in the recent times. And I believe this is solely because people believe in achieving business success ‘at all costs’. This ‘at all costs’ mindset is unacceptable and needs to be changed. And this thought cannot be rectified when someone is already a CEO, because it is simply too late to imbibe it. The consciousness needs to be brought in during their time in the management school itself. A student will only be a CEO 15-20 years later. Hence, the seeds of ethical business behaviour need to be sown in the management school. Just like parents are responsible for inculcating basic value systems in their children, it is the prerogative of the management schools to produce ethically conscious future managers and leaders.


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